Crime merchants at work

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On the surface, they are pitiable hustlers for survival, staking their lives as they hang delicately on the entrance of buses, canvassing for passengers from one bus stop to another on the ever busy Lagos roads.

But beyond the façade of these seemingly hard working bus conductors and their drivers are desperate criminals who think nothing of killing or maiming unsuspecting commuters in order to rob them of money or valuable items. INNOCENT DURU reports that countless innocent citizens have either lost their valuables or had their lives terminated by the hoodlums.

Members of St Lawrence Catholic Church, Isheri Olofin, Alimosho Local Government Area, Lagos State were thrown into mourning recently when a top member of the church identified simply as Ohale met his untimely death at the hands of criminal elements pretending to work as transporters. He was said to have gone to seek the support of his kinsmen for the burial of the late catechist of the church when the incident occurred.

A member of the church, who identified himself simply as James, said: “He was thrown down from a moving bus after they had dispossessed him of his valuables. He hit his head on the ground and later died.

“There abound similar ugly stories of how these despicable characters have sent many passengers, male and female, young and old to their early graves. It is disturbing and condemnable.”

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James lamented that the criminal activities being perpetrated by hoodlums working as transporters is increasing and disturbing. “Something drastic needs to be done by the government to stop this,” he said.

“The practice is not restricted to commercial buses; tricycle operators okada (commercial motorcycle) riders also do it.

“Criminals operating with tricycles put their victims in the middle and have their gang members flanking them on the right and left. When they get to a dark spot, they point a gun at the victim and take all that he has on him.

“The brutal ones among them could even push the victim off the moving tricycle without minding if he injures or even dies.”

A social media influencer, Lukman Oni, is yet to overcome the trauma he suffered after he was attacked in a commercial bus he boarded from Lagos Island.

He said: “I boarded a bus from CMS to the mainland without an inkling that danger was lurking in the corner.

“I sat in the middle and expected to hear the bus conductor ask for money but that didn’t happen. What I heard next was a coarse voice asking everybody to give up their belongings.

“They physically attacked those who did not cooperate with them. When they came to me, I quickly handed my phones, money and wedding ring over to them.”

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The criminals, he added, “allowed us to disembark only after they had fleeced us of our belongings. It was a traumatic experience that still haunts me till date.

“The experience is always flashing back each time I want to board a public vehicle. The sector needs to be properly regulated. It is too open, and that is why hoodlums are exploiting the loopholes to unleash terror on innocent citizens.

“The leadership of the transport sector is supposed to fish out these criminal elements to save their own image and the lives and valuables of passengers.”

A journalist, Musa Odoshimokhe, would not forget in a hurry the ugly encounter he had with the criminals.

His words: “I boarded a bus from Oshodi going to Sango. As we were approaching Ikeja Bus Stop, one of the guys in the vehicle pointed a gun at me. He boldly announced to me that they were armed robbers and asked me to cooperate with them.

“As he was talking to me, some people in a yellow bus spotted the vehicle and shouted, ‘Those are the robbers! Those are the robbers!’ They gave us a hot chase.

“I was half dead by that time, because if those people were armed and were going to shoot, they would have taken all of us for robbers and kill us all.

“In a Rambo-like manner, the robbers made a breath taking u-turn at the spot called Ile Zik and headed back towards Oshodi. By that time, the bus that was chasing us had lost sight of us.

“As the unfamiliar scene played out, I was wondering if it was real or I was dreaming.”

Odoshimokhe said that when the robbers noticed that nobody was chasing us anymore, “they turned back and drove towards Egbeda/ Iyana Ipaja Road. They swerved to a solitary street and asked me to hand everything at my disposal over to them. They also collected my ATM card and the pin. Before the day broke, they had withdrawn all the money in my account.”

Lekan a graphic artist and resident of Ifo is today visually challenged following the beating he received at the hands of robbers whose vehicle he mistakenly boarded.

He said: “I boarded a bus going from Oshodi to Ifo. We were six in the vehicle, but unknown to me, I was the only stranger among them. As we were going, the other occupants revealed their identity.

“They started the operation when we got to Shogunle area on the Lagos/Abeokuta Expressway. They drove to a solitary spot and demanded for my ATM card and other valuables. They punched me in the eyes and used wheel spanner to hit me cruelly on the leg.

“I spent a lot of money on my eyes, but at the end of the day, I lost one of them.”

Long after the incident, Lekan said, “I have developed a phobia for boarding small buses. I hardly enter small buses these days. I prefer long buses and ‘molue’, which always carries between 40 and 50 passengers. I am sure that such heartless elements cannot use long buses to carry out their nefarious activities. There is a need to flush out those criminals from the system.”

A businesswoman, Ruth Okoh, recounted how she was robbed of the goods she had gone to buy at the popular Tradefair Market by hoodlums suspected to be working with commercial drivers on the Lagos-Iyana-Iba axis.

He said: “After buying the goods, I put them in the booth of the bus I boarded from Iyana-Iba and sat in the front. In the course of the journey, two boys sitting at the back alighted, holding a bag, but I didn’t suspect anything since I didn’t look at their hands to know if they had the bag when they boarded the vehicle.

“When I alighted at my bus stop and tried carrying the goods from the booth of the bus, I discovered that the load had suddenly become light.

“Goose pimples suddenly enveloped my body. Looking round the big carton they goods were parked in, I saw that a sharp object had been used to cut a part of the carton from where the criminals took more than half of the items I bought from the market.

“When I narrated my ordeal to the people around me, they said it is a common practice on that axis and that the hoodlums work in conjunction with the drivers and conductors to perpetrate the act.”

After the incident, she said, “I learnt never to put my goods in the booth. If I have to put my goods in the booth, I will sit at the back seat to monitor it.”

Faceless bus conductors rob passengers at parks

Many motor parks in the state are also fast becoming beehive of activities for criminal elements who disguise as bus conductors to perpetrate all manner of heinous crimes against the people.

Many of the parks, according to findings, have become joints for all manner of hard drugs. Oshodi, one of the areas with very high number of motor parks in Lagos State, according to our findings, has recently recorded a surge in the number of faceless, wild, and dingy-looking young  boys who are said to be specialists in snatching phones and other valuables from unsuspecting passengers.

“These are undesirable elements in the society. They always present themselves as bus conductors and often fight one another to work for any driver willing to engage them.

“Besides working as bus conductors to cover up their primary activity, which is crime, they specialise in robbing people of their valuables, especially phones, at night and in the day time,” a trader in the market who gave his name simply as Ramon said.

Explaining how the hoodlums operate, Ramon said: “If you are careless with your phone inside the bus or while walking on the road, be it during the day or at night, you will see one or two of them moving around you. Once you lose concentration, they would snatch your phone and cross to the opposite direction.

“At night, you will see them in groups of between five and 10 at dark spots. All they are looking for in such places are prospective victims. Once they see one person, especially a female walking alone, they would pounce on her and take her valuables.

“They sometimes rape female victims. They belong to different gangs led by grown up park lords.”

A commercial bus driver who gave his name simply as Solomon said passengers are not the only victims of the criminal elements.

“If they work as your conductor, it will take the grace of God for you to get your money. Once some of them collect money from passengers, they will get down in traffic as if they are taking a stroll, and that would be the end. You will neither see them nor get the money.

“At times, they would owe passengers their balances. When the conductor is nowhere to be found, you as the driver will be the one to pay their balances.”

Solomon regretted that the previous plan to make bus conductors wear uniforms and get attached to specific vehicle failed.

“It was a good idea because it would have made the sector not to be an all-comer affair.  If every driver and conductor is duly registered, it will be very difficult for someone who is not registered to work as a driver or a bus conductor.

“We also need the police to resume the practice of raiding the parks and arresting these criminals, using the sector as a cover. All we want is sanity in the system. If that is done, the society would be better for it.

We’ve been arresting culprits — Police

The Lagos State Police Command says it has been apprehending criminals who disguise as transporters.

The spokesman of the command, Bala Elkana, in a telephone chat with The Nation, said: “We have arrested some individuals in the past. Even in the last few days, we caught one that uses a Sienna bus to commit the crime popularly known as ‘one chance’. It is pure robbery. They pick passengers and rob them of their valuables.

“There was this metallic Sienna bus that people kept complaining about. The CP tasked the RRS to be on the lookout for the vehicle. We got the vehicle and apprehended the suspect. The owner claimed that it was the brother who lives abroad that bought him the vehicle to help him make money for himself.

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“He was actually using it for commercial but along the line he felt he could do more and went into one chance robbery.

“We track such people down, apprehend them and charge them for the normal robbery crime that they have committed. We are also working closely with the road unions to make sure that such elements do not infiltrate their camp and find a space to operate within them.”

He further said: “The road unions also have their internal task force enforcement which we are encouraging to be able to checkmate the activities of their members and those who are not members and are infiltrating their camps.

“This crime is perpetrated mostly by those who are not under any particular union.  They just operate independently out there.

“We also have our patrols going on just for that. We have made some arrests in the past and we are still policing the roads against such elements.”

Advising the passengers, Elkanah said: “There are things that the police can do and there are things that the individuals can also do for themselves.

“First, the passenger must make sure that where he is taking that bus is a designated point. He must make sure that the bus is having the commercial colour. That is one thing that the government needs to regulate.

“Passengers should as much as possible avoid asking for lift.

“When you want to enter a vehicle, stand at a distance and look at the occupants. Once their faces look strange to you, don’t enter.

“When you want to enter a bus and you see some hefty men trying to put you at the centre, please don’t enter.

“When you are in such a vehicle and you discover that you are in a one chance vehicle, just remain calm. When you get to a place where you have a crowd that can help or you see a police point, because we have police points at intervals, you can raise the alarm. Don’t try to struggle at a point you know that no one can help you.”

Efforts made to speak with the Commissioner for Transportation, Mr Frederick Oladeinde, and the spokesperson of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Comrade Seyi Bankole, on what they are doing to sanitise the sector had not yielded any fruit at press time.

The duo was yet to respond to calls and text messages sent to their mobile phonnes as at the time of filing this report.

What government can do to checkmate vice – Expert

Proffering solution to the challenge of hoodlums operating in the transport sector, a security expert, Prof Samuel Odewumi, said most of the problems will require constant enlightenment of the public and effective crime reportage by the state government.

The government, he said, should have a traffic crime database which everybody can access.

He said: “Traffic crimes are dynamic. For a long time now, the problem of ‘one chance’ has been very common here in Lagos. The way to deal with it is to organise the transport union.

“The motor parks where they take off must be identified. Government should identify the owner  of each motor park. The public should be enlightened to know that it is dangerous to board a bus that is not originating from a park.

“For robbery in traffic, that is when you get to a gridlock, you have a traffic crime of those who want to knock on your window and show you a gun. The best thing is to man the 60 gridlock points that the Lagos State government has identified.  They are working on many of them now. The commissioner for transport himself is a professional.

“All of these 60 gridlock points should be on camera and there should be a taskforce to have that crime map. Lagos State has traffic crime map where these crimes occur frequently.

“This particular crime happens between 4 am and 5.30 to 6 am, and by the time it is getting to 8. 30 pm till 11 pm, it is very rampant too. I think we have about 1000 men of the task force and they bought about 40 motorcycles and 15 cars for them. They should deploy that effectively to the crime prone areas.”

He further said: “The one that is also emerging but with the restriction of okada is the people carrying arms and using it for robbery. We hope that with the restriction, that will mellow. The police should check the seats of okada at random. Some of those okada men have two or three AK 47 in their operations.

“The government’s plan originally before security report made it to act with the proscription was to obtain all the profiles of okada riders by asking them to register and giving them uniforms and numbers that you can see 10 kilometres off.   That will reduce crime. For every problem, there must be a unique solution.”

He agrees completely that conductors should wear jackets. “Anybody that is going to work as a bus conductor should have such a jacket that will make people to know that you are a genuine bus conductor.  Why the state government dropped that plan, I don’t know. But it is important.

“Even if a conductor will be attached to a driver, there must be no bus with a conductor not wearing jacket. The jacket will not be expensive. It should be a simple jacket like a waist coat. I agree with the suggestion that bus conductors should be streamlined and their profiles obtained.”

On the use of private vehicles for transportation, he said it  is illegal except for the UBER.   “There is hardly anything the government can do about this than enlightenment. When you see a private car and you enter it, you must do your due diligence, especially if you are entering the car outside the car park.  It is a matter of caveat emptor. Whoever uses such does so at his own risk and peril, but the government still has to protect everybody by constantly enlightening people.

“Anybody using private vehicles for commercial purpose should also carry a tag like a magnet sticker. That magnetic sticker that you will put on your car must be government branded.  When the man doesn’t want to use it as a taxi, he will remove the tag.

“All of those must be registered and marked. They must have number. With this, people will be safe; they will know who to approach.

The word regulation has been abused. It is like we are managing the situation and not regulating it, but it is still part of regulation.”

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